Incorporating Music into the Classroom

Who doesn’t love to get a little jiggy with it – especially during the dreary days of March? 

This is Music in Our Schools month, when music educators, students and school communities take time to promote the benefits of music education programs. According to the National Association for Music Education, Music in Our Schools Month began in 1973 in New York as just a one-day event. By 1985, it had grown into a full-on, nationwide celebration.

Though geared toward music teachers, there’s no reason we middle school educators can’t get in on the action. Music can be a powerful instructional ally.  Here are just a few reasons why I love infusing music into the middle school classroom – and not just in March.  

Music in the classroom can set intentions for the lesson. Whether your students need calming or perking up, playing just the right tune at just the right time can make all the difference. I’ve used orchestral music to great effect when I want my students to engage in some quiet writing time. I’ve also used peppier tunes when I sense my students are lethargic (post-lunch class, anyone?).

Music sets the mood...especially in the classroom.  I've found that playing music can help to make a cozy classroom environment.  Regularly playing music in the classroom makes it a warm and inviting place where students want to be...and that's the first step to learning.  

I like to play music during study halls, too.  It's a natural calming element for even the most squirrely middle schoolers.  If you’re lucky enough to have a computer hooked up to speakers in your classroom, there are any number of online music streaming options, including Pandora, iTunes and Songza (now Google Music). Or you can use a good, old-fashioned boom box and CDs.

And of course, music works as a great memorization technique (who says their ABCs when they can sing them?). I’ve set the various forms of the verb “to be” to silly tunes; and I’ve seen it work for math rules, science terms and even the Greek alphabet. Music helps to cement the information in our students’ brains. Chances are, you’ve experienced this yourself: If you were to hear a few words of a song from 20 years ago, you could probably belt out the next line without even thinking about it!

My students love when I incorporate music into their assignments.  Each time that I infuse music into students' school work the amount of student engagement increases substantially.  Some of my students' favorite musical tasks include bringing in song lyrics for a poetry study, re-writing a song to summarize a short story, and turning a book review into a playlist.  There's no doubt about it, music is an incredible motivator!

Music is a powerful – and pleasant – learning tool. It can have a soothing or energizing effect on you, too. Try it in your classroom and see what an impact it has. And have a happy Music in Our Schools Month! 

Thanks for stopping by!
Mary Beth

Favorite Poems for Middle School

I'm share my all time favorite poems to teach in the middle school classroom.  You'll find a collection of inspirational, clever, and funny poems that will have your middle school students loving poetry.

The British playwright W. Somerset Maugham once said “the crown of literature is poetry.” For the English teachers out there who have spent a good part of the year teaching complex novels, grammar rules and how to write a constructed response, this probably rings true!


Teaching poetry can be such a treat. It’s fun to have the students interpret ever-deeper meanings from even the shortest of stanzas. And it’s satisfying to find just the right poem to complement the theme or unit you’re focused on right now – be it a rhyming bit about dogs to break up your reading of Where the Red Fern Grows or a more serious poem that pays homage to Memorial Day.

The great thing about poetry is that it can be engaging, yet efficient; a couple read-throughs may take only a few minutes and can refresh your students on any number of skills, including close reading, determining central idea, interpreting figurative language, and citing text evidence. Or, it may simply open up a conversation. It’s always great to get the kids talking about literature!

So, with all the poems to choose from and all the ways that they can be taught in the classroom where does a teacher start?  Well, today, I thought I'd share with you my 5 favorite poems to read, analyze, and teach in the middle school classroom.

"In Just" by E. E. Cummings
Looking for a great poem to show off poetic innovations?  Then, you'll love "In Just" by E.E. Cummings!

This spring poem is told through the perspective of a child.  It's the perfect example of Cummings's poetic innovations.  In it, he plays with language, spelling, form, and punctuation.  I love teaching and sharing this poem because it's fun and a wonderful way to illustrate how poetry is limitless.  Students love discovering that all the typical rules that govern English Language Arts are thrown out the window with poetry.  It's mud-luscious!

Teach it with this Interactive Flip Book Resource.

"Nothing Gold Can Stay" by Robert Frost
"Nothing Gold Can Stay" is a classic poem that students can really get analyzing!

Looking for a perfect way to combine literature and poetry?  Well, look no further than Frost's poem, "Nothing Gold Can Stay."  You might already recognize it from The Outsiders.  In the novel, Johnny Cade tells Ponyboy to "stay gold."  This poem perfectly portrays the theme of the novel, but it works great in isolation, too.  Its message that all good things must come to an end is relevant to so many experiences that our adolescent students are having.  They'll love Frost's words and message.  Help students analyze this poem and four others with this Poetry Analysis Unit.

Great news! I've put together an exclusive free lesson for analyzing "Nothing Gold Can Stay!" Sign up below to receive the entire lesson plan, student resources and answer keys. Then, keep your eyes on your inbox because I'll be sending over 50 pages of more free poetry resources your way!

    "A light exists in spring" by Emily Dickinson
    I love a poem that makes students dive deep into its meaning and Dickinson's "A light exists in spring" does just that.  This poem is complex enough for students investigate figurative language and tone before analyzing its meaning.

    I love a poem that makes students dive deep into its meaning and Dickinson's "A light exists in spring" does just that.  This poem is complex enough for students investigate figurative language and tone before analyzing its meaning.  I've also found that students love learning about Emily Dickinson.  They're fascinated by the way she lived much of her life in seclusion.  Pairing this poem with a study on Dickinson has always been a hit in my classroom.

    Celebrate this poem and Emily Dickinson with this reading comprehension learning centers and poem analysis resource.

    "Journey to Be" by Mark R. Slaughter
    Here's a contemporary poem that middle schoolers really relate to.  It's "Journey to Be" by Mark R. Slaughter.
    Here's a contemporary poem that middle schoolers really relate to.  It's "Journey to Be" by Mark R. Slaughter.  His poem perfectly illustrates that life is about the journey and not the destination.  I love sharing and teaching this poem with students at the end of the school year.  It's a great read aloud.  I've also used it as part of a journey-themed unit.  Students love it!

    Teach "Journey to Be" with this collection of Journey Poems Analysis and Writing.  You could even combine it with this FREE end of the year reflection book.

    "Mother to Son" by Langston Hughes
    What's not to love about the message in Hughes's poem "Mother to Son?"  I've taught this poem with students of all grade levels and they all love it.

    What's not to love about the message in Hughes's poem "Mother to Son?"  I've taught this poem with students of all grade levels and they all love it.  It's message of perseverance is not only important, but it's also so inspirational.  This is a great one to share with students before standardized assessments or any time kids could use a little motivation.  

    Help students interpret and analyze "Mother to Son" with this poetry analysis unit.

    Reading, sharing, and analyzing poetry with middle school students can be so rewarding.  There's nothing like watching a class full of students discover a poem's deeper meaning and realize that poetry doesn't have to be intimidating.  On the contrary, poetry can be super accessible and even fun!

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      Thanks for stopping by,
      Mary Beth

      St. Patrick's Day Activity - Making a Limerick Mobile

      I love celebrating holidays in the classroom, especially St. Patrick's Day.  However, I don't love losing critical instructional time.  That's why I've found that a lesson about writing limericks that taps into the writing process, rhyme scheme, and syllables is a great way to embrace the holiday without giving up a chance for students to learn.  

      However, this year I realized that I could take the limerick writing lesson that is a hit with students to a whole new level....and all I needed was a FREEBIE from Art with Jenny K.  Have you seen this awesome shamrock coloring sheet?  Well, the coloring sheet makes an incredible anticipatory set (and it's going to transform into a limerick display...keep reading or check out this quick video...)

      So, my plan is to start the lesson about limericks with students coloring in the shamrock.  While they're hard at work making their pop art shamrocks, I'm going to share some example limericks and give students a little history about the how it is often believed that the limerick was invented in the 1700's by soldiers returning from France to the Irish town of Limerick (don't worry, these facts are already researched for you and included in the Writing Limericks freebie).

      Once students are done with their coloring pages, I'll hand out the step-by-step limerick writing guide (this is FREE too).  Students will progress through six steps as they develop their limericks.

      After students are finished with their limericks, they'll write them on a final copy template (fancy name for a square shape) and then cut them out (along with their pop art shamrocks).

      Then, they'll glue the limerick to the back of their shamrocks, punch a hole at the top, add a string...and tada!  They'll have created festive and educational limerick mobiles!

      Just imagine how cute they'll all be hanging along a classroom clothesline or dangling from the ceiling!  

      Here's the coolest part, both of the resources that you'll need to complete this interactive and educational lesson are absolutely FREE!  Find the Limerick Writing Lesson HERE and the Pop Art Shamrock Coloring Page HERE.

      Wishing you and your students a Happy St. Patrick's Day,

      Mary Beth

      Test Prep Tips

      It’s that time of year again. Spring is in the air… which means (cue the scary music) testing season is, too.

      Preparing for high-stakes standardized assessments can spark anxiety in even the most seasoned among us – and we’re not the ones taking the tests! Recent back-and-forth negotiations at the state level may take some of the pressure off, but for now, the tests are as inevitable as April showers.

      So, what’s the best way to approach the tests? To borrow a phrase from the Boy Scouts (and a song from “The Lion King”):

      Be prepared.  Here are three of my favorite ways to prepare for standardized assessments.

      Preparation Tip #1:  "Test Prep" all year long.
      I like to teach my students test-taking strategies throughout the entire year.  One of my very favorite strategies that I made up during my first year grading standardized assessments is the "READ" strategy.  It's how I help students respond to short-response questions.  When students respond to a short-answer question they need to write four sentences.  Each sentence corresponds to one of the letters in the word READ.  

      This strategy has been life-changing for students.  It makes responding to questions so much easier.  And the coolest part?  They can use the READ strategy when developing paragraphs for extended responses, too.

      We start practicing the READ strategy at the start of the school year.  Students learn about it in this Speech Analysis and Writing Unit, practice it during this Listening Comprehension Unit, and they master it in this Test Prep Mini-Unit.  My students LOVE the READ strategy.  In fact, when students visit my classroom when they're in high school, they always mention how they still use the READ strategy.  How cool is that?

      Preparation Tip #2:  Don't forget the skills.
      When I dreamed of being an English teacher I thought I'd spend my days reading literature with students or teaching students to write incredible writing pieces.  It's turns out, that while I can do some of that with my students, middle schoolers still need practice with the skills needed to be a critical reader and writer.  So, that's why I love infusing mini-units that target specific skills throughout the entire year.  I like to sprinkle in lessons on HOW to read and write throughout the school year.  Since students will definitely be asked to demonstrate that they can comprehend what they are reading on their state assessments, it only makes sense to teach them HOW to do it.

      My favorites for teaching critical reading skills are these 12 reading comprehension mini-units and this set of mini-units on literary devices.

      Preparation Tip #3:  Make it fun.
      Let's face it, the tests are not going anywhere anytime soon.  That's why I've adopted an "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" attitude.  When the state tests are right around the corner I like to get students pumped about the assessment.  It's our academic Homecoming Game, so we go all out to make it fun. Here are some of the ways that we make state assessments celebratory:

      - Decorate the hallways and classrooms with motivational signs and decor
      - Host a breakfast with healthy foods to give students an energy boost on the days of the tests
      - Have students make locker signs for one another that provide some testing motivation
      - Make motivational pencil flags for students' pencils
      - Designate testing days as pajama days (perfect to make the day feel special and a great way to discuss the need for sleep)

      The idea is to make standardized assessments about celebrating what students know.   So, instead of a high-pressure, high-stakes couple of days, I like to make it all about support and motivation.

      Here's a link to the motivational poster template that my students use when creating locker posters for their peers (these could be great on the back of students' chairs or hanging around the room, too.)  Click HERE to download the template for FREE!

      It's true, standardized assessments are a little scary, but I've found that with a bit of preparation they can be a ton more bearable and even a little fun!

      Wishing you and your students luck this testing season!

      Mary Beth

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